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The latest on COVID-19: Expect more deaths; too soon to say on State Fair

Mar 26, 2020 02:47PM ● By Editor
A Metro Transit bus travels with the hashtag #STAYHOMEMN during the coronavirus outbreak on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis on Monday.  Photo:  Carlos Gonzalez | Star Tribune via AP

From Minnesota Public Radio News - March 27, 2020

Minnesota’s seen only two deaths so far tied to COVID-19, but officials are expecting that number to rise — and they’re bracing residents for continued changes in daily life.

On Thursday, officials said a second Minnesotan had died from COVID-19. The number of residents testing positive for the disease jumped to 346. Gov. Tim Walz told reporters their ages ranged from 5 months to 104.

He continued urging Minnesotans to stay home to help “break the chain” of the disease’s spread. Restaurants remain takeout-only; public school buildings are shuttered now until early May. The governor’s two-week, stay-at-home order kicks in Saturday. Rosedale, Burnsville and HarMar malls are expected to close over the weekend. The Mall of America is already closed

The jump in cases from Wednesday to Thursday was among the largest single-day increases the state’s seen since the pandemic arrived. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said officials were preparing for more cases and casualties.

“I’m sorry to say we know we’ll be reporting more deaths in the days to come,” Malcolm said.

Besides working to slow the spread of the coronavirus so it doesn’t overwhelm the health care system, state leaders are trying to confront the economic toll created by tens of thousands of Minnesotans thrown out of work. About 28 percent of working Minnesotans will be temporarily jobless the next couple of weeks.

State lawmakers Thursday backed a $330 million rescue plan that aims to head off some economic, health and spillover consequences of the pandemic. Together with an earlier package, the Legislature has OK’d more than $500 million, with Capitol leaders saying more actions will follow.

Beyond the pandemic and the strain it’s causing on the state’s health care and economy, Walz and state leaders are wrestling with other tough issues. 

For instance, the governor and others are urging Minnesotans not to head for their cabins in greater Minnesota to ride out the pandemic, warning that could overwhelm rural stores and hospitals if people get sick in lake country or spread the virus there.

Officials are also increasingly worried about the spread of hate. Reports are rising about Minnesotans of Asian descent being targeted for hate speech or discrimination in the state, apparently because of the outbreak’s reported origin in China. Walz on Thursday said Minnesotans were better than that.

And as Walz continues to call on Minnesotans to keep their distance to help slow the spread of the disease, reporters asked him whether the Minnesota State Fair might be at risk of being called off or postponed from its historical late August-early September run.

The fair puts hundreds of thousands of people close together each year; Walz and other officials have expressed concerns that Minnesota and other states will be dealing with coronavirus cases through the summer.

“Minnesota does need the State Fair,” he said, adding that it was probably too early to make a call. "It would certainly be my hope by the time we got to that point, we'd have a handle on this thing.”

Developments from around the state

Minnesota lawmakers pass a bill to fund child care providers across the state

The state House and Senate passed the $330 million package that includes nearly $30 million for early-childhood educators.

Minnesota has about 9,000 providers, including many that have struggled to keep their doors open since the COVID-19 crisis hit. Ann McCully, the executive director of Child Care Aware of Minnesota, said with so many parents withdrawing their children from day care, it leaves providers with less money to serve essential employees, including those in health care.

“This is something that we've been asking for since the governor first released the first executive order, frankly,” she said. “If we're going to ask our child care communities to step up, we need to try to help them cover the cost of that because there is no other funding stream except for what parents can pay.”

It's still unclear how the grants will be dispersed — or which providers will be first in line for the funding. Early childhood educators say they would be eligible for grants if they reopen to serve critical workers. Licensed child care centers, in-home providers as well as tribal programs are eligible to apply for $4,500 monthly grants. Some programs that are willing to open overnight and on weekends to serve emergency workers are eligible for an additional $1,000 monthly.

— Riham Feshir | MPR News

Digi-Key says it’s poised to help make ventilators

A northwestern Minnesota electronics distributor says it has the parts to help make thousands of low-cost ventilators to help meet an expected surge of patients desperately ill with COVID-19.

Digi-Key in Thief River Falls is partnering with the University of Minnesota on a low-cost, easy to build substitute for ventilators that will help hospital patients with the most difficulty breathing. The university built a prototype and Digi-Key has a computer-controlled motor that can make it run.

The university and the company are looking for more manufacturing and supply partners and federal approval in what state officials say may be a race against time as the coronavirus spreads and the need for critical care outstrips available hospital beds and life saving equipment.

— Tim Nelson | MPR News

Klobuchar’s husband, a coronavirus patient, is improving

Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Thursday afternoon that her husband John, who’s been in a Virginia hospital with coronavirus, “took a good turn” and has now been released and is recovering at home.

— MPR News Staff

Minnesota weighs expanding absentee voting, mail ballots

With an eye on the current coronavirus pandemic, state elections officials are looking at options to let more people vote in the upcoming election without having to show up at a polling station.

Those options include statewide ballots that could be completed at home and returned by mail and an expansion of absentee voting along with a reduction in polling stations, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said Thursday.

“I've heard from many Minnesotans who wonder how, or even if, we will vote in this high-stakes election year. My answer is clear: The 2020 statewide elections should go on as scheduled,” he said in a statement.

— MPR News Staff

To read the original article and see related COVID-19 reporting, follow this link to the MPR News website.

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